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Are courts sending the right message on knife crime?

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Guy Smith | 14:47 UK time, Tuesday, 25 May 2010

A collection of lock knives. Getty Images"I'm disappointed and frustrated". The words used by Britain's top cop at a Scotland Yard briefing to crime reporters today.

Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson was commenting on how young people are now far more likely to be searched for carrying a knife, more likely to be caught, and 90% of them are then charged with possession of a weapon.

But what seems to disappoint him is that very few end up with a custodial sentence. The latest figures show only one in five convictions result in immediate custody.

He said: "If you have sentencing guidelines then they should be followed and we should be asking questions if they're not followed."

So what are the guidelines?

There are three levels according to the seriousness of the offence. They apply for adults.

Level 1 is the least dangerous situation ie. for someone convicted of having a knife but there's no real possibility of he/she using it. Also the weapon is not used to threaten or frighten anyone.

For that, the guidelines state "the starting point would be close
to 12 weeks custody for a first time adult offender who has pleaded not guilty."

However, teenagers are treated differently and more often than not receive non-custodial sentences. It's a balancing act between avoiding criminilising young people and ensuring those convicted are held responsible for their actions.

Do you think the courts have got it right? Are they sending the correct message to young people?

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